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Edward de Bono at the University of Malta 2015

On Feb. 9, 2015, Edward de Bono, one of the world’s leading thinkers in creativity, gave a talk at the University of Malta’s Institute for Creativity and Innovation named for him. During the session, he covered his ideas on lateral thinking, argument and why the world needs new thinking habits.

“The most significant behavior of the human brain is humor,” says de Bono. Humor indicates a patterning system. “Patterning systems are very important.”

De Bono had the group exploring the Random Word, Provocative Operation (PO) and Blocked by Openness techniques during his talk. Each technique introduces something into the situation that seems ridiculous or unrelated. The Random Word is just what it sounds like. As people are discussing the solution to a problem, a word is chosen at random and related to the problem at hand. The point is to find a word that will spark a change in thinking.

The PO allows the participant to say something that doesn’t make sense by itself. The group is then supposed to move forward from that idea. There is no judging of the idea, just moving forward from it. The example that de Bono gave was a question that came up when discussing a factory’s waste contaminating downstream. “What if the factory was downstream of itself?” While this seems a bit ridiculous, what it did was inspire legislation in several countries that required factories to dump their waste upstream of the factory. Factories then had incentive to keep the river clean.

The idea behind being Blocked by Openness de Bono explained by describing the main roads as free of traffic. Going down the main road because it is so open would limit anyone from taking the side roads. In essence the side roads would be blocked by the openness of the main road. Oftentimes, our brains use a concept to make things easier. In Blocked by Openness, it is important to find out what that concept is and then challenge the brain not to use that concept.

“The key thing is movement,” says de Bono, “movement as distinct from judgment.”

While judgment says an idea is wrong, lateral thinking moves forward from the wrong idea rather than criticizing it. For 2,400 years, people have been using argument as the key discourse tool. The problem is that argument consists of proving people wrong and holding onto and protecting a concept. It uses destruction as its essential tool, and it lacks creativity. Argument is not an effective way of exploring a topic.

De Bono created the 6 thinking hats as a different way to approach a problem. Everyone wears the same hat at the same time, and then examines it from that hat’s perspective. Someone who is critical of the idea but wearing the yellow hat would still need to see what is good about the idea. De Bono says that the process actually saves time.

De Bono says that the fear of mistakes and lack of incentive to try out new ideas are the greatest inhibitors to the adoption of creative ideas.

“We’re all brought up to avoid mistakes at all costs,” says de Bono. Trying even one new idea a year in business would help.

Too much of what people do when it comes to thinking is using normal processes without trying to go beyond those processes.

“Caveman thinking consists of recognizing a standard situation and then providing a standard answer,” says de Bono. “Most of our thinking is that.”

De Bono is working on his 85th book about “Bonting,” which focuses on thinking that creates value.

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